Friday, March 30, 2012

30 March 2012 - Mornington Gardens Holiday Village, Victoria

The day was spent exploring Mornington Peninsula, an absolutely lovely area. The road south, the Nepean Point Road, passes through several lovely seaside townships; Mount Martha, Safety Beach, Dromana, and from here you can take the Arthurs Seat Road south east, winding up 305 metres above sea level to Arthurs Seat, from where one might be able to see across Port Phillip Bay on a clear day.

Alas, today, the dirty haze was low over the horizon in all directions despite the clear blue skies all above. Our only view was immediately to the south west over McCrae and Rosebud. The lookout is situated in the Arthurs Seat State Park and is a lovely spot for a picnic, however the day was still too new, even for morning coffee, so we descended and continued along our way down the coast, noting the many bathing boxes lining the sandy beaches, just as those we had seen at Brighton some weeks ago. There are apparently more than 1800 iconic bathing boxes in Port Phillip Bay, and more than two thirds of them are situated down this coast on the Mornington Peninsula.

The settlements merge into one another; the whole coast is simply a continuation of the Melbourne suburbs. We continued on through Rye, Blairgowrie and then to Sorrento and Portsea which are situated at the base of the bay, the interior of the hook that protects this massive bay from the wild southern ocean.

Just east of Sorrento we stopped at the historic memorial to the very first, albeit brief settlement of Victoria led by one Captain David Collins and his shipload of four hundred and two people, including three hundred and seven convicts and their seventeen wives and seven children. The attempt at settlement in October 1803 on this narrow neck of land was short lived and all but William Buckley left again within four months. Lack of water was the main problem, along with the threat of the natives and generally acknowledgement that this was not an ideal place to start a new life. A fortnight later they were all in Tasmania where most went on to lead worthwhile lives.

William Buckley has popped up here and there along our travels; he and several of his convict mates escaped from the Sorrento site, and all but him were recaptured. Buckley took up residence with aboriginals who thought him the reincarnation of a recently dead family member. He lived in relative harmony with his new “family” until the 1830s when he gave himself up to the colonial authorities. He never did really settle comfortably with either culture after that but did go on to write a book about aboriginal customs, a very valuable exercise.

We were set on travelling to the very end of the peninsula, especially since we had travelled all around the Bellarine Peninsula on the other side of the port, from Geelong, and looked down on the Rip, and watched the ferries plying their regular route from Queenscliff across to Sorrento.

As we stood gazing across the entrance to the bay, we mused that we had taken more than two months to travel from Queenscliff to Port Nepean, a distance of perhaps only four kilometres as the crow flies.

The tip of the peninsula is protected from development and any other nasty that humans might do, by Victoria Parks. The Point Nepean National Park covers an area of 560 hectares and is covered mainly with scrub comprising coastal tea tree, moonah woodland and the purple flowering South African polygala. There is apparently a great collection of wildlife however we noted very little of it apart from the swifts and willy wagtails.

Point Nepean is also famous as the place where one of Australian’s Prime Ministers disappeared. In December 1967, Harold Holt went swimming at Cheviot Beach. The sea was not wild today, but quite enough to suggest what it might be like in poorer weather. And the weather had been indeed inclement leading up to the day PM Holt ventured into the southern ocean. Today only a memorial gives any indication that this was the beach, along with a small interpretative panel, which explains that the Coroners Court finally pronounced him dead only early this century. Up until then conspiracy theories abounded and no doubt there are still some who think he was abducted by aliens. His body was never found.

We were able to drive within about three kilometres of the point, and set off on foot with our lunch in the backpack. We stayed to the paths and road attending to the signs that warned against straying into any fenced off areas. There could well be unexploded bombs about, according to the warnings. Perhaps that is why we did not see any fauna; they were not literate?

Much of the land now included in the National Park belonged once to the military; in fact from the 1880s right through to 1945, this was a very important defence area. Remains of the forts which were finally stripped of their armoury and other paraphernalia in the 1960s are now open to the public and are an excellent spot to enjoy the spectacular views over the sea, the bay and the entrance. It is a beautiful spot and the weather stayed with us; a lovely warm sunny afternoon ensued, and we were delighted by the place. We sat in a gun emplacement out of the sun to eat our lunch, and heard footsteps and whistling of soldiers, courtesy of hidden sound systems. As we explored the tunnels, the activity of the ghosts was all around us, but never visible. I imagine they are turned off along with the lights at 6 pm.

We returned to the landcruiser after more than two hours, and headed back south east over beautiful farmland which extends right down to the southern coastline, driving up and down through steep gullies, on to Flinders. We parked high above the beach from where we could see the small bay tucked inside the Western Port, the large body of water to the east of Mornington Peninsula, not as large as Port Philip Bay, but equally as impressive on the map. From here we could see across to Phillip Island and make out densely populated settlements thereon, probably Cowes.
Pelicans at Crib Point

The road from here heads north east on up to Crib Point from where the ferry travels to Cowes. Here too is the end of the Frankston rail line, and a multi-lane boat ramp so busy with fishermen coming and going, with many lining up for their turn. We paused to watch the activity on the ramp, a successful fisherman gutting his catch and the flock of seagulls and pelicans gathered to dispose of the offal.

From here we continued further north to Hastings, bought ice-creams at the Scottish Restaurant and wandered along the pier. We spent some time chatting with a fisherman who imparted his views on New Zealand’s MAF inspectors (formed from watching New Zealand television documentaries), reckless drag netting of the Western Port and the more recent regeneration of fish stocks, Jews and air travel. He was looking forward to “some beers” over the weekend and of course any fish he might catch on either or both of his lines. We finally escaped, wishing him a good life, and set off back across the peninsula to Mornington and our camp.

We had discovered yesterday that the Mornington Horse Races were on today, and just for a moment we considered attending; I am glad we chose to explore this lovely part of Victoria instead.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

29 March 2012 - Mornington Gardens Holiday Village, Victoria

We have finally left Melbourne although some say that the settlements down here on the Mornington Peninsula are just suburbs of the great city and if this is so, perhaps I am mistaken.

Yesterday, our last day in Melbourne, was spent following the last of Chris’s trips of nostalgia. When he first arrived in Melbourne about forty years ago, he and his mate were T-boned at an intersection on or near Sydney Road. He was taken to the Royal Melbourne Hospital for remedial rescue and much later in another life, he worked out of an office and yard located in the same road. All of this became clear yesterday when I asked him about his persistent interest and desire to “do” Sydney Road. And so we caught the tram from Preston down to the city, a half hour trip taking us through Fitzroy visited many weeks ago. The graffiti was worse if anything, but Fitzroy does have a certain surreal charm, or at least from the tram window.

Our timing was amazing; we immediately caught the North Coburg tram, once more heading north, more or less parallel to that just minutes before. We alighted outside the Royal Melbourne Hospital and walked on up Sydney Road. Here it is a beautifully wide tree lined street, with Princes Park running up one side, an extensive park giving the suburb its name of Parklands. Several kilometres on we came to Brunswick, a jaded streetscape busy with Muslim business, the women heavily shrouded in burkas, the butchers all selling halal meat,  stores just full of wonderful exotic produce and the most amazing number of shops selling formal and bridal wear. I called in to see a beautician to have my eyebrows done, something that Chris cannot be trained to do despite having learned to colour my hair so well. The beautiful Iranian woman and I chatted at length, both being from other countries, but her a longer resident than I. I lamented that our children and grandchildren were far across the seas, but then remembered that her family probably were even more so, and so it was. Apart from her husband, she has no family here at all. These conversations put life into perspective.

A little further on, we drifted into a clothing store, the fittings and stock being marketed at giveaway prices. Here we engaged in conversation with the Chinese proprietor, a new Australian of twenty eight years, who spoke frankly about doing business here in Australia; how hard it was to operate above board when the taxes were so onerous, the rents were so steep and the minimum wages at $18.50 plus superannuation which is tipped to be 12% in the near future. He felt as if he had been working his guts out seven days a week for the whole twenty eight years and achieved nothing. The building had been sold to developers and so he was soon to be out on his ear, although consent for the new work to begin was dragging on giving him both respite and uncertainty. When we asked him what he planned to do next, he shrugged his shoulders, lamenting that his mother and sister had done well without the slog, and there were state beneficiaries who were doing well without doing anything at all. Australia was not the land of milk and honey some portrayed it as. We wished him luck as he did us, and continued on our way up the road, until we arrived at Coburg and here we delighted in yet another exotic part of Melbourne.

The cafes and restaurants, stores and services are mainly Greek and African and Middle Eastern Muslim, however there is evidence of just about every other ethnic group imaginable. It is the whole world all poured into the one area, and just wonderful.

When we reached Bell Road, at least five kilometres from where we had set out on foot, we caught a busy tram back into the city centre, lingered for a while listening to the buskers in Bourke Street mall, then caught an even busier tram back to Preston, and then drove the short distance back to camp.

It should be noted here that Chris was unable to remember exactly on which corner the car accident had occurred or identify the corner where Higgins had operated from all those years ago.

We were expected in Sunbury at Bob and Janet’s home for dinner at 7 pm, so we quickly readied ourselves and drove the three quarters of an hour west. Janet had been called into work unexpectedly and had been home for less than an hour. Despite this, she had cooked an absolutely wonderful three course meal, which we washed down with the wine we had brought. We sat around the dining table until late, hesitant to leave, knowing that it could be some time before we caught up again.

With instructions to take an alternative route back to the city, we left Sunbury just before 11 pm but found the road closed for maintenance. We followed a series of detour signs north and through the countryside, pleased we did not encounter travelling roos, and arrived home sometime later than expected.

This morning dawned clear and promising excellent travelling weather. We were organised and out of camp soon after nine, and on through the busy city roads, making our way through to the Eastlink toll road, listening to the regular kerchunk as we passed under the automatic electronic toll “booths”. We wondered how they worked, then decided that even if it was explained to us, it would probably be too complicated to understand, but we did wonder how much each kerchunk cost and how much “the system” would grab from our credit card for the privilege of using this excellent road. We did also wonder what the hideous structures on the pedestrian bridges over the freeway were for, and decided that beauty was definitely in the eye of the beholder.

Soon before midday we arrived at Frankston and made our way to the Information Centre. Parking suitable for such a rig as ours was difficult and by the time we arrived at the Centre, we were not enamoured by Frankston. We walked back to the town centre, and found it to be city-like in every way and agreed we had probably been too hasty in our criticism. We were also disappointed to discover that all camping sites on the Mornington Peninsula are priced in the mid-$30s and more, including the coastal reserves made available by public authorities.

And so we made our way on south to Mornington to this camp, the only one in this particular township. It is an absolutely delightful camp, aptly named as a “Garden Holiday Park”. There appear to be many permanents but their “dwellings’ are tasteful tidy portable structures, surrounded in beautifully kept gardens and each partitioned by hedges. Birds abound and we are sure we will be very satisfied with our stay here.

Once we were set up this afternoon, we drove down into the township, and on down to the jetty at Schnapper Point. Here we found numerous fishermen quietly contemplating the sunny seas, periodically pulling up fish. The restaurant on the wharf was busy with customers and there were many others like us enjoying the day and the delightful spot. Chris took great pleasure drooling over the trailer sailers through the high net wire fence in the compound.  We then walked up and down the main street and agreed that Mornington was just lovely.

Since arriving back at camp, we caught up with Olly on Skype and chatted with little Matthew, up again out of bed. The electricity had gone off in that part of Auckland and security alarms were going off all about; not conducive for settling children at night. Time for bed for him and time for our dinner; we said goodnight. What a wonder modern technology is!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

27 March 2012 - Melbourne Big4 Holiday Park, Coburg, Melbourne, Victoria

We survived our night amongst the busy trucks and travellers on Sunday night, a little fitfully but finally waking later than planned. We hurriedly got organised and headed off, finding that we had to travel five kilometres north before turning south again toward Melbourne. Despite our slow start, we were parked outside Advantage Caravan Repairs before 10 am and before midday the hot water system had been given a good going over complete with new anode. Chris paid attention to the process and so may be confident to undertake the service himself next time. However in the meantime, all is as good as new.

We passed two caravan parks as we continued on down the Hume Highway, but one was closed and rather derelict and the other serving only a permanent resident base. With our options reduced and not wanting to return to the Sundowner  Rockbank Park, having done the west of Melbourne well and truly, we settled for this park which is a lot closer to the centre of the city. Because of this and because of its franchise connections, it is much more expensive than the camp at Rockbank, the sites are tight (we have no space to erect our awning), but the service is impeccable and the facilities are wonderful. We are parked right beside the swimming pool complex, so closely that we could reach out the kitchen window and grab a sunbather’s towel if anyone was of a mind to lounge about the pool.

The afternoon was spent checking out the public transport terminals, stocking up our provisions and making a start on the mountains of washing we have accumulated.

Today dawned with clear blue skies and promised to remain fine all day. We set out mid-morning toward the Dandenong Range almost due east of Melbourne’s CBD. The National Park covers 3200 hectares, was established in 1987 and really is the oddest shape having been patched together by bits and pieces of land acquired for the purpose. Right through the ranges there are numerous residential properties tucked tightly into the dense bush of mainly mountain ash and tree ferns.

Initially we headed for Lilydale, a suburb of Melbourne but appearing to be a separate town. It is situated thirty five kilometres from the centre of the city, in the Yarra Valley with a population of about fifteen thousand. Our Tomtom took us from here at Coburg up through the rural areas of Park Orchards and Warrenwood, through Chernside to Lilydale. It was a rather roundabout route but a most welcome one, through delightful countryside and past some lovely homes. It was hard to believe that this was all part of Melbourne!

At Lilydale we called into the Scottish Restaurant for a complimentary coffee on brandishing Chris’s Seniors Card, then down to the town’s lake where there were an amazing number of cars. Tuesday morning at the Lilydale Lake was busy with walkers and mothers with young children. Again Tomtom had us thread our way through the maze of roads up into the ranges past Montrose to Olinda, a charming little village full of cafes, craft shops and surrounded by one hundred B&Bs. Three kilometres down the road we arrived at Sassafras, yet another small but equally charming village, and we sat beside a park eating our lunch in the land cruiser, too wimpy to venture out into the cold.

Near Olinda is The Cuckoo, a chalet restaurant which offers slap dance and yodelling entertainment and today there were several coaches lined up outside giving evidence that there were plenty of takers for the attraction. When we were in Bright and travelled the alpine circuit, we saw the German cuckoo clock shop in Omeo, and today, thinking about this, I was reminded of a cuckoo clock factory we were taken to on the Trafalgar tour I did around western Europe. As we have travelled about this country, we have seen sights that are as impressive as any I saw in Europe. Apart from the much older history of Europe, Australia has so very much to offer,.

We returned to Olinda, then headed south west on more winding wooded road to Monbulk, passing more and more residences hidden in the trees back from the road, all a nightmare for the CFA in the area. Everywhere there are signs reminding people that this is an area prone to bushfires, and so one wonders at the wisdom of living in such a place. People have short memories or perhaps the attitude of “she’ll be right, mate”.

All along the road were intermittent piles of inorganic waste, piled and ready for collection to occur sometime in the very near future; sofas, chairs, pushchairs, and every kind of “stuff” one discards from time to time.

From Monbulk, we travelled south to Emerald, a real town, real in that it has a hardware shop, a couple of supermarkets and many sensible useful shops. We pressed on to Belgrave, yet another suburb of Melbourne, with about five thousand people. The main street is stretched out along the side of the hill, above the rail. The suburban electric trains come here from Melbourne central, and from here there runs a steam train which takes tourists through the forest and fern gullies of the Dandenings to Emerald, on to Cockatoo and Gembrook. Chris took this trip in his previous life and remembers it as a particularly unpleasant experience, being subjected to suffocating smoke. Today I read the promotional literature and found that you can travel “first class in the luxury fully enclosed dining carriages”. I imagine this is would be a more pleasant option.

We travelled on back toward Melbourne, passed Upper Ferntree Gully and noted the large hospital across the gully, then on to Ferntree Gully which seemed to consist only of kilometres of car yards. We were soon onto the Burwood Highway, then took the tolled Eastlink Freeway, and were back at camp before 3 pm. The clouds had come over but the loads of washing I had left on the line to dry were ready to come in. Washing done and an excellent driving tour completed.

Monday, March 26, 2012

25 March 2012 - Great Divide Rest Area, Hume Freeway, Victoria (near Wallan)

From the sublime to the ridiculous; our camp site tonight compared with last night’s. The morning light brought a slightly more positive view of our camp site. We had shared it with a young French couple in a whizz-bang van, and all spent a very quiet dark night. This morning, investigation of the facilities revealed that the toilets were clean and most adequate, and on the other end of the building, there was a large covered picnic area complete with gas barbeque. The grass covered reserve was indeed locked off from vehicles but would have been excellent for tenting. In fact this camp site would be excellent in the middle of summer, a refuge from the blazing heat in the quiet shade.

We left the site mid-morning under cloudy skies, disappointed with yet another dull day. The road from Toolangi through to Kinglake passes through forest interspersed with cultivated small holdings. Closer to Kinglake, the ridge to the south of the road falls away and reveals an expansive view back to Melbourne. Today in the haze, the skyscrapers of Melbourne stood out like a massive grey castle in the distance. I imagine on a clear day the views would be stupendous; no wonder so many people have chosen to settle up around the Kinglake National Park. Here too, the damage wrecked upon this land by fire just a couple of years ago, became increasingly obvious. However it is wonderful to see that the tall charred gums have sprouted a mass of branches to appear like a bottle cleaning brush, just as we saw up the Queensland coast after Cyclone Yasi.

At Kinglake, we pulled into a car park and checked out a Farmers Market, paying the “gold coin” donation to the man from the Rotary Club for the privilege of doing so. The market was disappointing in its size, and yet the stalls had excellent wares, just none we needed or were tempted by. We were soon on our way again, heading on through Kinglake West, still scarred by the fires, where there were many new houses, some recycled bungalows having been moved onto the ten acre blocks, evidence that people were attempting to get their lives back together.

Soon the road descended from the range down toward Whittlesea, a pleasant rural township. Here we parked in the high school car park and read the Weekend Age, the one newspaper we had been able to get our hands on yesterday. While we sat quietly doing so, a large family arrived and rode their bikes and scooters around us, and then when it was time to go, found their battery flat. We were asked to assist, which we were able to do since they were carrying a set of battery jumper leads. This was the second time we have been asked for this kind of assistance and the second time we have discussed the need to buy a set of leads ourselves.

After lunch we walked around a few blocks including up the main street of the town where there were a surprising number of people eating at the few cafes and takeaways. We called into the Information Centre and struck up conversation with the volunteer there about the recent fires and generally living with such threat.

It was still early in the afternoon, however we decided to continue westward, on through to the Hume Highway, the very same we had travelled more than a week ago when we travelled from Melbourne to Seymour and on to Shepparton.

This rest area is actually an autobahn, complete with petrol station, McDonalds, Subway and Kentucky Fried Chicken, and the inevitable conveniences. There is a huge parking area, for both trucks and cars, very busy with both and no doubt will continue to be so right through the night. But from here we should have a short run into Campellfield in the morning to Advantage Caravan Repairs, once we manage to find our way to the other side of the freeway. Hopefully our Tomtom will have the answers. And hopefully by morning maintenance people will have called and emptied the overflowing rubbish bins and replenished the toilet roll holders. Sunday travellers place enormous stress on this service centre.

24 March 2012 - Toolangi Recreational Reserve, Victoria

More correctly we are parked up in the muddy car park of the recreational reserve, surrounded by forest down by a creek, amid much birdlife who are probably unaware of us tucked up in the darkness of the bush. This place is private and will do for the might, but will not win too many brownie points.

Yesterday turned into a red letter day after all; snow fell on Mount Buller and Mount Hotham and our sixth grandchild arrived into the world, a little girl weighing a healthy nine pounds five ounces. Had we left Mansfield as per our original plan, we would have been somewhere out of the range of telecommunications, and Kit would not have been able to contact us to announce the exciting news. So in the end, the rain was a blessing.

This morning did not promise too much more on first viewing, rain having fallen through the night but the temperature was marginally better. Occasional drizzle persisted until after we upped camp and were doing a last minute shop in Mansfield, but as we travelled toward Bonnie Doon, the sun came out and only the tops of the mountains were left shrouded in cloud. Today we drove about this charming little settlement and read the history displayed on the information board. We learned more from the women in an Information Centre further south about Bonnie Doon when discussing lake levels during the drought years. They told us that Bonnie Doon had been particularly unattractive during those years and that properties had been sold by disappointed owners for a song, however now with the lake full, prices had tripled.

We continued on along the Maroondah Highway, travelling the same road as two days ago but in reverse, enjoying it no less. The wombat carcass on the road we had examined two days ago was still there but less recognisable, and as we travelled further, we now recognised many more, along with those of foxes and rabbits.

At Alexandra we parked up and walked up and down the street, unable to buy an Australian here; the plane from Sydney had not connected with the truck and so no one in the area would be receiving the Saturday paper until Sunday. We should be well accustomed to this by now.

A crowd of evangelical Christians were handing out tracts and giving away sausages sizzles; we declined the reading matter but Chris was unable to resist the sausage. It was so good, he was almost tempted to go back for another even if he risked being prayed over.

A visit to the Information Centre proved interesting; the two volunteers were happy to impart as much as they knew about the cycle rail trails, gems to watch out for in in Tasmania, the state of Lake Eildon, an impending 100 kilometre fundraising walk and anything else that came to mind. We finally came away with an armful of brochures and decided to have lunch before heading on our way once more.

The road from Alexandra to Healesville is just beautiful. Soon over hills just south of Alexandra, one then follows the Acheron River through a wide open valley, between the Black and Cathedral Ranges, and then climbs steeply over the Yarra Range through dense tall gum forest down to Healesville. This charming settlement is arrived at quite suddenly on the descent, views of the Maroondah Reservoir between the trees but difficult to access when towing two and a half ton. The town was buzzing with people, surprisingly so for a Saturday afternoon. However when we made our way to the Information Centre, we soon discovered that there was much happening in town this weekend, including horse racing, the labrynth festival and a concert of some kind. We were entranced by the place and just for a moment considered staying here in a caravan park, but then realised that they would all be booked out and if there was a space, it would be at premium rates. We decided to stick with Plan A, which was to head north west up the Chum Creek up into the Toolangi Black Ranges and find this camp noted in Camps 5.

Chris has tuned the television and we have reception albeit only a couple of channels. I am pleased about this because we are both keen to learn the results of the Queensland elections being held today. The media have already decided that Labour will loose and Anna Bligh can retire, replaced by the ex-Lord-Mayor of Brisbane. We have seen the media manipulate elections in New Zealand in past years; reporters should learn that journalism is the art of reporting what has happened, not what they think may happen. However after a new baby yesterday, interest and excitement in the election results today are rather overshadowed by our family news.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

23 March 2012 - Mansfield Holiday Park, Victoria

We were supposed to have left Mansfield today, but we woke to rain and it didn’t look like improving anytime soon. After checking out the weather forecast on Google, we decided that tomorrow would be a better day for continuing our exploration of this beautiful part of Victoria and today was best spent holed up with the heater, a hot lunch and a few good books.

Thankfully yesterday had been just fabulous despite the 6 degree temperature on rising. Not that we rose early; time was better spent under the covers lamenting the lack of insulation in caravans and the fact that winter in the high lands was incredibly early. So much for global warming! But the vicious temperature was herald to the most perfect cloudless autumn day, one out of the box.

Even after such sloth, we allowed ourselves to be further delayed talking at great length with the campers immediately next to us, Richard and Relli. Again we found much in common although they had yet to take the total plunge of early retirement, finding a way to ply their trade using the excellent technology available to even those on the road. They were heading out bush camping, to give their labrador some time off the leash, but insisted we call on them as we passed through Traralgon.

When we finally did head out for the day, we had not had an opportunity to discuss the route in detail, so when Chris twigged that we were past a turnoff to an area he had wanted to see, there were many words, and then we agreed that there had been an abysmal lack of communication and no more should be said. We pressed on, travelling south along the eastern side of Lake Eildon, over the Delatite River, picnicked beside the day before further upstream, and turned into Gough Bay.

The first dam on the Goulburn River creating Lake Eildon was completed in 1929, and then enlarged to create a reservoir ten times as large between 1951 and 1955. When full (it is currently at 98%) it holds six times as much water as the Sydney Harbour. I was surprised to learn that the maximum depth is only seventy nine metres; the hills or mountains around most of its shores are steep and high. Because of this, the lake is shaped a bit like a spider, with its tentacles of water stretching up long valleys and it is therefore only seen in its entirety from the sky, not even the summit of Mount Buller.

Gough Bay is a delightful little lakeside settlement with a small general store that does not stock the Australian newspaper, or at least by midday. While we paused to enjoy the scenery, we agreed that it would only suit us to stay here for more than a day if we were avid fishermen, and then only with a tinny that could manoeuvre the tops of the trees protruding from the lake surface. Many of these dead trees we are seeing here and over the past year are those that grew on the edge of much diminished lakes during the drought years, which have now been subjected once more to drowning in better times. Again considering these better times of rain, we could well imagine that the lake would not be even half so lovely during those many years of drought.

We returned to the main road, sealed but hardly a highway, and pressed on to the southern tongue where the upper Goulburn River enters the lake. A couple of kilometres south lies Jamieson, a delightful has-been village tucked between the hills amidst a multitude of deciduous trees. There is a general store here which does stock The Australian even at midday, but requires any shopper to ring the bell many times and shout out loudly for service. Perhaps they had been enjoying a quiet lunch? The old courthouse still stands, now a heritage protected building.

Jamieson is situated on the river of the same name and for many years served as the supply town for Woods Point, a gold mining settlement more than fifty kilometres further up the Goulburn River. Had we left camp at a more respectable hour, we might have driven up the valley to discover the charms of this old township, which has reportedly the most photographed petrol station, now disused, in Australia.

But we did stay long enough in the area to enjoy our lunch at a delightful reserve beside the Jamieson River and then walk the well maintained path on “The Island”, where the two rivers converge. We looked for platypus but saw none, although there were many very beautiful brightly coloured parrots about; all shades of green, scarlet, blue and yellow in varying combinations. These were the first of the thousands we were to encounter as we continued on our way.

We wended our way across the ranges on the southern side of the lake, sixty two kilometres of very twisty road up and down the steep ranges, through the Eildon National Park and State Forests, catching rare glimpses of the lake, and passed only a couple of vehicles toward the end of the route. Chris had been hesitant about travelling a full circuit of the lake given the distance and the infrequent shore line to the road, however had to agree that it was a very very beautiful drive through equally beautiful bush.

The meaning of the word bush has become increasingly blurred in my ramblings. To an Englishman, it means a small tree, to a New Zealander it means dense native “forest” and here in Australia, more often than not, it means anywhere outside a built up area, that is, “the country”. So here when someone says they were brought up in “the bush”, they simply mean they were brought up in the country. Using this definition, so was I.

Back to the lake and the day’s journey; we finally reached Eildon, the site of the dam and the storage place of many house boats. We stopped for fuel and wandered through the very small shopping centre which does boast a couple of cafes, a supermarket, a hardware store, et cetera and a House Boat Sales office. Here we poured over the advertisements displayed in the window, marvelling at the range of prices, some as low as $32,000 and some nearing the half million mark. We decided that we would stick with the caravan after all and pressed on to the marina, a wonderful sheltered arm of the lake and full of such an array of delightful house boats. We crossed the dam wall and enjoyed the view down over the power station, the pondage lakes and the Goulburn River as it headed on its way to the Murray.

There was still another ninety or so kilometres to drive back to camp, however the road was wide, and through beautiful valleys, over low ridges and along the northern end of the lake, passing through the towns of Alexandra, a thriving rural service town and the very beautiful Bonnie Doon. The farmland throughout this last part of the trip was green and lush, the hills peppered with fine gums and sheep and beef cattle. It reminded me of the lovely parts of the King Country or South Waikato in New Zealand.

A bonus to all of this was evidence of the wonderful cycling trails that criss-cross this whole area and we agreed that we must return here after the winter, but this time with a couple of second hand bikes.

And so we arrived home rather later than normal, and since my dear husband had driven so far on roads that had required so much concentration, I insisted I cooked dinner for a change, but subjected him to one of my pasta bake specials. Such is life!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

21 March 2012 - Mansfield Holiday Park, Victoria

We had seen the weather forecast for the days ahead, so were pleased to find on waking that the rain had not yet arrived. Clouds were gathering and we did not wish to spend the week waiting for the promised wet weather to clear, so set off early with the eski and warm clothes packed up in the landcruiser.

The road to Mount Buller from Mansfield is only forty four kilometres, and passes through more lovely farmland on the eastern side of Mansfield, before climbing up over a low ridge and descending down into the valley cut out by the Delatite River which rises in the foothills of Mount Buller. It is such a pretty road, all sealed and wide enough for any traffic we passed, even as it winds the last fourteen kilometres steeply up the side of the mountain.

Mount Buller is Victoria’s largest and best alpine skiing resort, and rises to 1,805 metres above sea level. From the road, all the alpine ash is tall, green and healthy, seemingly untouched by past fires, as are the snow gums nearer the village. It is not until further exploration that one finds the gums on Little Mount Buller, slightly to the south west bearing the scars of fires in 2006. This smaller sibling rises only to 1,558 metres. Here at the ski resort, there are twenty four lifts, including a new six-seater Holden chairlift (the first of its kind in Australia) giving access to 18 hectares of ski trails. The skiers arrive in their masses, and there are 7,000 beds waiting to accommodate them with all the restaurants and cafes at their service. I was certainly impressed by the scale of the operation, but then I have only seen those smaller resorts over the past week and others in New Zealand.

Obviously the only people up there this morning were others like us, and the many many tradesmen who are working in a frenzy to have the many brand new extensions and buildings ready for the onslaught of the snow bunnies.

We drove as far as we could toward the summit and then climbed the last one hundred metres or so, fighting the cold wind all the way. At times, when a gust came, I had to stand with my back to the wind and feet firmly on the ground, so not to be blown off the side of the mountain. It was not quite as terrifying as walking to the lighthouse at Castlepoint on New Zealand’s Wairarapa coast can be.

After returning to the car, we drove back down into the village and checked out the public shelter which spells out some of the history of the area. The first leasehold graziers came up into the mountain in 1873, and it was not until the 1920s that the mountain was seen as a skier’s destination. After the Second World War, the one lodge had fallen into disrepair and it was decided that more should be done to develop the ski resort, and the rest was history. Chris was here about forty years ago and was impressed with the commercial aspect of it then, however it was not a patch on what it is today.

Already the dark clouds were rolling in and it was not at all pleasant to be outside the vehicle. We drove back down the very winding road and had our lunch at a lovely spot at Mirimbah; all that is left of a mill which operated from 1935 through to the 1970s. Sheltered by tall gums, we sat beside the beautiful Delatite River and enjoyed the last of the good weather for the day. By the time we arrived back in Mansfield, rain had already started to fall and the rest of the day was spent holed up with the newspaper, maps and other like paraphernalia.

20 March 2012 - Mansfield Holiday Park, Victoria

Trains did not start to pass en masse until just before dawn, and I heard every one of them. We were up and on the road about 8 am, almost unheard of these days.

We turned off the Hume Freeway about ten kilometres after the Benalla exit, and on to the Midway Highway, bumping on down the sealed road through the most lovely rolling farmland, open woodland grazing beef stock and thousands of sulphur crested cockatoos. We pulled into the recreational area of Lake Nilahcootie, the dammed Broken River, the same camped beside at Casey’s Weir nearly a week ago. Unlike most of these reservoirs which have kept their drowned trees as souvenirs, still standing in the shallow water, this was clear of trees except for the southern end.

At the lake we met up with people travelling in the same direction as us, but by car on the way through to Melbourne to enjoy a week of wining and dining with friends. Chris and Yvonne have a caravan too and spend most of their caravanning time up in the Red Centre. We spent some time chatting with this lovely couple, who now live at Wangaratta, and found much in common. After exchanging email addresses and accepting a vague but future invitation to call on them when we are next passing, we each continued on our way.

Mansfield is only about sixty kilometres south of Benalla and is the gateway to the High Country around Mount Buller and Lake Eildon, with a population of about five thousand.

We made our way to this caravan park after calling in to the Information Centre. It is only ten years old, set up on seventeen acres of farmland, on the edge of town, complete with horses, cows and sheep grazing in the next paddock and ducks and swamp hens on and about the small lake. Unlike the only other park in town, this has spacious sites and more importantly, a lower tariff.

We set up camp and had an early lunch, then set out on our afternoon’s expedition, tracing further haunts of local bush rangers. The first was the Kelly Tree and Stringy Bark Creek, where Ned Kelly committed the crime for which he was eventually hanged, the murder of a policeman. In fact, he and his gang took out three policemen here, but the other murders were attributed to other members who met their demise at Glenrowan. Today, this lovely setting on the creek, thirty eight kilometres north of Mansfield in the Toombullup Range did not suggest that any historical horror had ever taken place, had it not been for the excellent descriptive panels. We had wound our way up into the mountain range, through cattle grazing country, then up a gravel road into the Toombullup Forest, a dense forest of tall stringy bark gums. As we made our way around the well-marked gravel path, some of it still wet and muddy from the recent rain, we were careful to avoid the mine shafts full to the brim with water. There were no other tourists here; we were alone except for the kookaburras.

We have traced the path of the Kelly exploits all through this area, an action that has in the process shown us the natural beauty the country. It seems that the intervening years have made Ned Kelly a hero, someone who had the guts to stand up to authority and thus became a champion or advocate for the underdog, particularly in a time when the authorities did treat a certain sector of the population so appallingly. But apart from the fact we now hand out welfare payments to these poor battlers, what really has changed over the intervening years? For myself, I see him as a ruthless criminal, an outlaw, who deserved everything he got, and have little sympathy for his background althlough I shall trouble myself here to precis these local bushranger stories:
Bushranger Lesson I:
1850    John “Red” Kelly, a twenty nine year old ex-convict from Ireland, married eighteen year old Irish born Ellen Quinn (six months pregnant) in Melbourne. They settled as dairy farmers at Wallan.
1854    The Kellys buy a small farm at Beveridge (south of Wallan). Edward “Ned” Kelly is born, the third of eight children, and the elder son.
1864    The Kelly move to a rented 40 acre dairy farm near Avenel.
1865    “Red” Kelly is found guilty of “having illegally in his possession one cow hide”, he begins six months hard labour in the Avenel lock up. Eleven year old Ned rescues a seven year old  from the rain flooded Hughes Creek near Avenel. He is rewarded with a green-silk sash (that Ned later wears at his last stand). The sash is now displayed at the Benalla Museum.
1866    In December forty five year old “Red” Kelly dies from dropsy. Twelve year old Ned assumes responsibility for the large Kelly clan.
1867    The Kelly’s move to Eleven Mile Creek, near Great, to be closer to Ellen’s family, the Quinns.
1869    At fourteen, Ned is arrested for the first time for “assault and robbery”, with his charges later dismissed. By May, Ned is apprenticed to the popular bushranger Harry Power. Ned learns highway robbery and bushranging.
1870    Ned’s alliance with Power leads to his second arrest, this time for highway robbery, and for being Power’s accomplice. At Kyneton, Ned’s charges are dismissed, he is later (unfairly) blamed for Power’s capture (and fifteen year gaol sentence).
1871    Sergeant Constable Hall gives Ned a brutal pistol whipping while arresting him at Greta for riding a horse stolen from Mansfield. The actual thief, receives eighteen months gaol for “illegal use”, Ned gets three years hard labour (Beechworth Gaol, Williamstown and Pentridge)
1874    The now bearded 19 year old Ned returns to Greta to find his mother married to American George King, and his brother Jim, serving five years for “horse stealing”, sister Maggie married to family friend, William Skilling and older sister Annie dead after giving birth to an illegitimate daughter, possibly fathered by Greta Police Constable Flood. Ned settles down and finds work at a sawmill, near Moyhu.
1877    Ned and step-father George run a stock stealing outfit, aided by Joe Byrne, Aaron Skillett, Wright and “Brickey”Williamson. Police issue arrest warrants for Ned, his younger brother Dan and cousin John Lloyd Jnr, all for horse theft.
1878    On 15 April, new Greta constable Alexander Fitzpatrick, a man later described as “a liar and a larrikin”, rides to the Kelly homestead to arrest Dan for “horse theft” (without a warrant). A confusing brawl erupts, (later a drunken Fitzpatrick testifies Mrs Kelly assaulted him, and that Ned shot him in the foot. Fitzpatrick escapes to Benalla, Ned and Dan flee the scene. Next day, the Police return to arrest Mrs Kelly, her son-in-law Skilling and neighbour Brickey Williamson. On 9 October Mrs Kelly, Williamson and Skilling stand trial at Beechworth Courthouse for “attempted murder”. Mrs Kelly gets three years hard labour, Skilling and Williamson each receive six years. Ned and Dan offer to surrender if the police release their mother, the offer is refused and a police search gets underway. By sheer luck, on October 25 four police officers sent from Mansfield (Sergeant Kennedy and Constables Lonigan, Scanlon and McIntyre) camp at Stringy Bark Creek less than two kilometres from Ned’s and Dan’s hideout at Bullock Creek. Next day, the Kellys, joined by Joseph Byrne and Steve Hart, attempt to disarm the police and take their horses. Kennedy, Scanlon and Lonigan are killed. The Victorian Government posts a 2,000 pounds reward. On 9 December 1878 the Kelly Gang occupies Faithful’s Creek homestead, near Euroa. Next day, as Joe Byrne guards their prisoners, the Kellys and Steve Hart steal 2,000 pounds from the National Bank at Euroa, then escape as the police search.
1879    On 10 February the Gang steals 2,000 pounds from the Bank of New South Wales in the small isolated Riverina town of Jiriderie. Before fleeing, Ned leaves his now-famous 7,500 word “Jerilderie Letter” with the bank’s accountant, who promises to have it published. (The letter is not published until 1930) The Victorian and New South Wales Governments, and certain NSW banks, increase the gang’s reward to 8,000 pounds. Meanwhile, police informers, including Aaron Sherritt, camp in the Police Caves in the bush near Beechworth, to spy on the homes of Joe Byrne and other Kelly sympathisers.
1880    The Kelly Gang “disappears’ for seventeen months. Frustrated police lock up Kelly friends and relatives for months without trial, and draw up black lists of sympathisers to be barred from selecting land in NE Victoria, this fuels more local sympathy for the gang. Early in 1880, Ned decides his gang should wear protective armour. They forge four sets of crude armour, complete with helmets from plough boards. Police setup their informer Aaron Sherritt as a Kelly trainee, despite Sherritt being a friend of Joe Byrne and a Kelly gang sympathiser. The police hope the gang will break from hiding to kill Sherritt, giving them a chance to capture the outlaws. On 26 June Dan and Joe Byrne ride to Woolshed valley, near Beechworth, where Byrne shoots Sherritt dead. Meanwhile Ned and Steve Hart ride to Glenrowan, here they break up the railway line on a dangerous bend, then round up the townsfolk into Ann Jones’ Glenrowan Inn to wait the special police train (en route to avenge Sherritt’s murder). The police train approaches Glenrowan in the early hours of Monday 28 June. Glenrowan teacher, Thomas Curnow, earlier released by the gang, uses a candle and red scarf to warn the train driver of Ned’s ambush ahead. As the police lay siege to the Glenrowan Inn, the Ned Kelly dons its armour and opens fire. Within minutes Ned is badly wounded, he leaves to warn his supporters (wrongly summoned by a misfired signal rocket) of the police siege. Ned returns at dawn to rescue his gang, still trapped inside the Glenrowan Inn. After a remarkable half hour gunfight, police finally bring Ned down. Despite his armour, Kelly is riddled with twenty eight bullet wounds and near death, his gang dead. Police raze the Glenrowan Inn, then load Ned and Joe Byrne’s corpse onto a train for Benalla. Next morning, Kelly travels to Melbourne and is locked up in the Melbourne Gaol. Ned’s committal hearing is held in Beechworth on 2 August. Here he is formally charged with the murder of Lonnigan and Scanlon. Fearing growing public unrest, authorities relocate Kelly’s trial to Melbourne, to be heard on October 28 & 29. The jury returns a verdict of guilty for the murder of Constable Lonigan, Scanlon’s murder is never heard. A public campaign to save Ned gathers over 32,000 signatures on a petition for his reprieve. On 11 November 180, Ned Kelly dies on the gallows.

We returned to the Mansfield – Whitfield Road, and travelled on along the top of the range until we came to the turnoff for Powers Lookout, a reserve since 1886 covering 1,100 hectares. From this lookout perched up on a rocky outcrop, we had the most wonderful view up the King Valley, known for its wines and gourmet produce. It was here that a bush ranger by the name of Power kept watch for the law, and here we learned much more about this lesser known bad egg.
Bushrangers Lesson II:
Harry Power was one of Victoria’s most notorious bushrangers, committing over thirty crimes. History books are full of the exploits of the Kelly gang, but few know of the bushranger who taught the young Ned. The teenage Ned Kelly partnered Power on several hold-ups, and as his apprentice learnt how to escape the police and survive in the bush.
Harry Power, an excellent bushman and horseman, often eluded capture by disappearing into rugged terrain. He had several well-hidden camps scattered around the wild hill country that was his domain, including one near this lookout.
A fifty pound reward led Harry’s capture here on a dark and stormy night in 1870s.
Harry Power (also known as Henry Johnstone) spent thirty of his seventy two years in gaol. Born in Ireland in 1819, he was sentenced to seven years for stealing a pair of shoes and transported to Tasmania in 1840, aged twenty one.
Some time after his release he ventured to Victoria. In 1855 he was sentenced to eight years for horse theft and wounding a policeman with intent to do grievous bodily harm. Within a year of his release he was caught for horse stealing and sentenced to seven years on a road-gang.
In 1869, just a few months before his official release, Harry Power escaped. He remained at large for sixteen months as a bushranger. On his recapture, he was sentenced to fifteen years hard labour. He was released in 1885, aged sixty six years, having spent most of his adult life in gaol.
While in Pentridge gaol, Harry met Ned Kelly’s uncles, Thomas and John “Jack” Lloyd. The brothers were serving five years for cattle stealing. Soon after Harry escaped the road gang he visited the Lloyds who lived in the King Valley. The Lloyds introduced Harry to their brothers-in-law, John and James Quinn, criminals in their right.
The Quinn family homestead, Glenmore Station, the home of Ned Kelly’s grandparents, was located in the King valley below this lookout. Harry set up a permanent camp on this rocky outcrop with its natural vantage point and used some of his bushranger’s bounty to reward the Quinns (and others) for harbouring him.
Power conducted many robberies but a cash bounty was always small, often a few pounds or even shillings. Sometimes he took nothing if he thought the people could not afford it. Harry Power never killed anyone and it has been reported that he was always courteous to the women he held up.
But Power frequently took his victim’s horse – the transport of the day. This gave him a fresh mount and more time to get away before his victim could notify the nearest local constable or trooper.
After his release in 1885, Power worked for over five years as a tour guide on a ship that had once been his prison quarters. The prison hulk “Success”, moored in Port Philip Bay, was converted to a floating museum where people came to see what was described as a “living hell” for prisoners. Power, the infamous bushranger and former inmate, was its star attraction. Old Harry returned to north-east Victoria in 1891 when the “Success” was towed to Sydney.
Death came by drowning, in October 1891. A passing steamboat uncovered a body that turned out to be Harry Power. He apparently fell into the Murray River while drinking.

After having saturated ourselves with regard to bushranger folklore and history, we turned and retraced our route back to Mansfield.

19 March 2012 - Mokoan Rest Area, Hume Freeway, Victoria

This morning the road took us back out down the Ovens Valley, through Myrtleford  to Bowman which is no more than a place name on the map, where we turned north east toward Beechworth, crawling up and over the Buckland Gap Road.

Beechworth’s history is very like that of Bright, but is situated up out of the valley, well spread out over undulating hills. Like Maldon just south of Ballarat, the town is now protected with heritage status, however has a vibrancy that Maldon lacks. Maldon, for me, was how I often see history, in sepia; Beechworth is all in bright vibrant technocolour.

Through the 1850s and right through until the first decades of last century, Beechworth was the centre of the Ovens Goldfields and the administrative centre for North East Victoria. During those lucrative years, the population rose to 30,000 and numerous public buildings were erected to support its eminent status. Now known as the Historic and Cultural Precinct, these buildings are registered by Heritage Victoria and the National Trust.

The town is situated on the Murray to the Mountains Rail Trail and is serious about providing accommodation and dining options for those undertaking this ride. The commercial precinct is full of fascinating shops and boutiques, all in these wonderful old buildings; shops with names like Splatoons Cartoon Shop & Gallery, Beechworth Honey. The Ardent Alpaca, The Beechworth Sweet Co., Crime Scene Gift Shop, Beechworth Provender, Larder Fromagerie & Provisions, and so on. The tourist blurbs suggest that touring Melburnians should delay their shopping until they arrive here and I can well imagine what a delight it would be to exercise one’s credit card in this charming town.

We utilised few of these services, except for the newspaper, some stamps and some delicious sourdough bread from the Beechworth Bakery which does the most amazing trade, and this was Monday!

After exploring all the streets of the centre, we retired to the local lake, Lake Sambell, where we parked to have our lunch. Apart from being wet and having a good population of birds, we did not find the lake hugely inspiring, but it did provide a refuge from the busi-ness of the town.

After lunch we headed toward Wangaratta, but joined the Hume Freeway heading toward Melbourne before reaching Wangaratta visited just days ago. It wasn’t long before we reached the exit for Glenrowan, the capital of Kellyana. This was the setting for Ned Kelly’s last stand against the law, where his three gang fellows were slain and he was finally laid low enough to be taken into custody.

In 1880, the year of this big show down, Glenrowan had a population of about one hundred, two pubs, a railway station and little else. Today it is about the same, but with only one pub.

Armed with a self-guide brochure we walked about the spots now famous in this final chapter of great Australian folk lore, including Ann Jones’ Glenrowan  Inn where Kelly holed up for a couple of days with his hostages, the Police Shelter Site, the capture site, the railway station from where he was finally taken from to Melbourne for sentencing and hanging. There are excellent interpretative panels in each spot, however for the complete experience one is encouraged to enjoy the animated show where you are guaranteed to be frightened, and warned off if you have a heart condition. We recently reread Bill Bryson’s DownUnder, or at least the section that relates to this part of Victoria. He has a hilarious account of the show at Glenrowan; we decided that was enough for us.

There are several shops just full of souvenirs all based on the Kelly story; we managed to avoid temptation, and instead returned to the highway and pressed on to this rest area we had checked out when we came past nearly a week ago.

We are within view of the railway line and a body of water that was once known as Lake Mokoan, but today the Winton Wetlands. The swamps all about were flooded back in 1971 to create a reservoir for water supply. Thirty nine years after problems with weed and no doubt, Greenies, the reservoir was decommissioned and today nature is back in control. It is quite a noisy rest area, with large trucks sharing the space and while the trains do not seem very numerous, there was one who appeared to take delight in tooting as they approached a crossing in the distance. Hopefully this was a one off. There are currently three other camping parties here with us, one of whom came a moment ago to borrow our lighter. We were pleased to oblige but begged that they take care. They are recently arrived German tourists who may not be familiar with the dangers of bush fire. I read today in a small Forestry Museum at Beechworth that the north eastern part of Victoria has the best conditions for bush fire. Those in 2003 were caused by a series of lightning strikes all occurring over the region at the same time. Even today as we travelled down the freeway, we were surprised to see a farmer working his way around a so called controlled grass fire.

18 March 2012 - Big4 Porepunkah Mill Holiday Park, Victoria

We spent the next day holed up in the caravan, venturing out only briefly to the local general store at Porepunkah, for the newspaper. By afternoon the rain had eased a little, thus promising better weather for the morrow. Our one accomplishment of the day was to make Skype contact with Chris’s sister to wish her and her husband our congratulations and best wishes for their fiftieth wedding anniversary to be celebrated in England the next day.

On Saturday morning, our optimism was rewarded. The rain had abated overnight, the lake outside our caravan had disappeared, and while the hills all about were still shrouded in thick cloud, it was promising enough to set off into Bright for a few fresh vegetables and of course the important weekend newspaper.

On arrival, we discovered the weekly market underway down in the riverside park. Markets should never be ignored even if only wandered through with one’s hands in pockets, as we did. This market was not the common variety flea market but an upmarket collection of classy boutique wares; olive oils, wine, jewellery, paintings, fresh fruit and vegetables at inflated market prices, chocolates, cupcakes, coffee, assorted nuts, more coffee and even more importantly, stall holders announcing that the sun was forecasted to shine before the end of the day.

We wandered beyond the market area to discover charming parklands all along the river and decided that we simply must investigate further, but not today. If the weather was indeed to improve to a state of “sunny”, we had other plans for the afternoon.

The Information Centre was close-by and proved to be well worth the visit, having a very good display of matters alpine, including a DVD explaining the history and natural wonders of the Alpine National Park.

Bright at 319 metres above sea level is a township of only about three thousand people, although the number of residences suggest more. Like all tourist destinations, the number of beds in the town does not reflect the number of permanent residents. In the summer, people come for the proximity to the Victorian Alps and Mount Buffalo National Park, and in the winter, the same, albeit for different activities. Like all rail trails, cycling trails constructed from disused rail tracks, the tourist industry that springs up needs to grow quickly to keep up with its reputation. Bright reminded us of New Zealand’s Hamner Springs, without the thermal springs, but with a rail trail. This likeness may be misleading however I would suggest that there are few differences between the clientele.

Bright, initially known as Morse’s Creek, is located at the confluence of the Oven’s River and Morse’s Creek, and started its life as a small rural service area in the midst of the sheep and cattle grazing, but was soon replaced as a goldfield centre in about 1853. As most of the goldfields, it drew many from China, and also as many of the stories we have come across as we have criss-crossed Victoria, it became the location of yet another historical crisis; the Morse’s Creek Riots.

By the late 1850s, Chinese miners dominated the alluvial diggings. After the Buckland Riots of 1857, just up the road from here, anti-Chinese feelings festered on the diggings. In April 1859, the Chinese camp here in Bright was attacked by a group of European miners. The Chinese were driven off their claims and the camp was looted and burnt. One miner, Ah Sang, was bludgeoned to death and another severely injured. Despite attempts to trivialise the incident, authorities took a dim view, and three months later, a new camp was laid out in an attempt to protect these miners. It is estimated that between 1200 and 1400 Chinese were then working on the upper Ovens River. It is interesting that there is so much repetition in the general history of these gold rush days here in Victoria.

After purchasing some wonderful bread from the bakery and a few items from the Woolworths supermarket, we made our way back to the caravan park, had an early lunch and then set off up into the Mount Buffalo National Park, the end of the road near the summit our goal, a distance of thirty six kilometres.

As we wound our way up the steep road into the mountains, we could not help but notice the abundance of water spilling down the mountainside, over the high cliffs and over the wonderful granite outcrops. Yesterday’s rain was a bonus to our sightseeing and had not adversely affected access.

We called into the National Park historic chalet and the lookout opposite, out over the Gorge, from which we had spectacular views from the sheer cliff side. Bent’s Lookout is at an altitude of 1,300 metres above sea level and a collection of structures perched out over the ledge.

We drove on up the road toward the Horn, but were advised that the road was closed three kilometres from the top. When we reached the road block, we quizzed the barrier keeper who explained that a helicopter was working further up and was anxious not to drop his cargo on tourists, however he should be finished in half an hour or so. We took the opportunity to don our walking boots and head up a track to the Cathedral, a great pile of impressive rocks from where we could see great areas of snow gums bravely fighting the elements. Here great fires swept through in 1985 and so the dead trees are lying more prostrate than those up further in the alpine park.

When we descended to the car park, the man with the orange cones had gone, and so we resumed our drive to the top. The Horn is 1,723 metres above sea level, and is another high rocky outcrop above a lookout at the car park. This time, we packed water into the day pack, in case we should perish in the heat part way up, and then found a barrier on the track with a notice to say it was closed. Two young women had preceded us so we pressed on despite the barrier, only to come to yet another repeating the same. Being law abiding citizens (well, Chris is), we gave up and instead engaged in lengthy conversation with half a dozen other grey headed tourists, travelling from the Hunter Valley in New South Wales.

On our return, we pulled in to the manmade Lake Catani and the ski fields of Cresta Valley, all rather deserted and waiting for the influx of skiers during the “declared snow season”. We returned also to Bent’s Lookout over the Canyon, now devoid of the masses and now also with better visibility. When we had called in earlier in the afternoon, there had been periods of rising cloud between moments of clarity. We also walked along Crystal Brook to where the creek falls dramatically off the top of the mountain plunging 200 metres to the rocks below.

After this there was nothing but to return to camp and agree that the mountains of Bright were just wonderful and had to be on any Must-do list for Victoria.

This morning dawned cloudless, or at least was so by the time we slug-a-beds poked our heads outside. We had debated the number of days we needed to book further, and finally decided that beyond the original two and an extension of two more, another one should do. And so today was the last in Bright and should be well spent. Lunch was packed into the eski and we belatedly set out toward Bright, detouring up to the Tower Hill lookout, a modestly signed track up into forestry. A car park under a power pylon suggested this might be the destination; however the view over Bright was divided into sections by the massive power lines. The track continued, hopefully further up, but in fact took us into a timber felling working area. We returned to the main road and pressed on to our next destination: Wandilidong.

This is a small settlement up the Morse’s Creek valley, with oodles of gold mining history and today, home to fruit and nut orchards. Armed with walking maps, we parked at the centre, beside the once-upon-a-time-general store, more-recently-sometimes post office, now closed, and walked down into the old diggings area. The track was poorly maintained and much of it had been destroyed by flooding over the past years. A meeting of interested local residents was in progress down by the creek, in the hope of motivating money and effort. We discreetly moved on in an effort to find the Chinese Swing Bridge. Alas, access to this and the more commercial tourism attraction, the Maze, were closed and so we returned on the same route, poached some apples from a tree badly neglected by all but codling moth, where we were caught out by a local orchardist returning from the local community meeting (referred to above). He suggested we might end up with bad stomachs by eating the stolen apples, however we were able to assure him they tasted fine; he of course had a vested interest, his apples codling free and commercially viable. We chatted for some time, assuring him that his Australia was not boringly the same, but a magical land that inspired us greatly, and was well worth taking the effort to tour.

We finally parted, wishing each other good lives and good health, and headed back toward Bright. We had paused on the Wandilidong Road earlier and watched paragliders land on a flat road side paddock. We wanted to investigate this further, and so on our return, turned up Mystic Lane toward the Huggins Lookout. This was a gravel forestry road, better than the one travelled earlier in the morning, and as we turned in the opposite direction from the Lookout, even more utilitarian. We wound our way up the hill, to a point 737 metres above sea level, from where alpine paragliding and mountain biking tours launch themselves off the heights. An hour and a half later, having lunched and spent an hour or more conversing with an aficionado, we were so much more informed as to the activities carried on here.

Apparently one can pay about a couple of grand and enjoy a nine day course of paragliding obtaining a ticket as a temporary pilot. The price includes the tuition, the “hire” of the equipment, transport up and down Mystic Hill and a whole lot of fun. The young Melburnian whose wife had come along as an observer only was well satisfied with the service and was enjoying his last days throwing himself off the hill, despite the pain from what he suspected was a broken rib. We watched one head off with a corner of his “wing” entangled in the mass of cords, and hoped as he glided toward the landing pad, he would land safely. We watched a couple of others head off running from the launching pad, hop step and jump, and land on their well-padded bottoms with their chutes falling in a confused mess around them. We also watched others launch successfully and fly high above in the thermals for the duration. The possibility of a tandem flight did greatly appeal, but without a good reason such as a decade-birthday, it seemed a frivolous wish. But do watch this space in the years to come!

We finally tore ourselves away from this excitement and descended to Bright, where we donned our walking boots and set off down along the Ovens River to do the Canyon Walk. This was far less civilised than my expectation, proving the existence of canyon status which I had doubted. The river has carved its way through the valley and flows fiercely on toward the Murray even in its upper reaches here. This entire area was hugely mined for gold, mostly through sluicing and dredging. From the years from 1900 to 1955, fifty five dredges operated here, even changing the whole route of the river. Today as we walked down river, we passed over dozens of water races cut by hand by those tireless miners.

At one point we encountered a couple of dogs, one fierce and small, the other of the kind I consider worthy of extinction, his strong shoulders and the black patch over his eye even more intimidating in the absence of owner. They greeted us aggressively; we reciprocated with soft greetings, immediately ignored. Fortunately there were pieces of stick lying about which we armed ourselves with. At that point, the larger dog turned and ran off, his smaller friend resigned to follow. We continued the route thus armed until we came upon fellow walkers on the return up the other side of the river who assured us there were no dogs ahead. In this country of snakes and spiders, who would think to arm themselves against domestic dogs? 

On our return to camp, we were pleased to make contact, albeit with terrible Skype reception, with my parents. We are now better prepared to head off in the morning.